Congress has taken initial steps to potentially change the face of trade and travel relations between the United States and Cuba, its island neighbor to the south.
A bill is making its way through committees of the House of Representatives that would ease restrictions on travel and food sales to Cuba. Passage of this legislation would open up a major market for U.S. tourists. It would also be a boon for the U.S. business community seeking additional markets for tourism revenues.
The House Agriculture Committee voted last week 25-20 to lift the ban on American travel to Cuba. The bill must still make its way through the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs Committees before receiving a full vote on the floor, according to The Washington Post.
The current efforts would not only increase exports, but begin to chip away at a five-decade old embargo against the island nation. Relations between the two nations ceased in 1959 when Fidel Castro took control of Cuba. Effects of the embargo can be seen all around the island, as it does not enjoy many of the basic freedoms and technologies that its neighbors do.
Currently, U.S. interaction with Cuba is limited to those with immediate family members on the island or those with a special agricultural permit. Since 2000, the U.S. has permitted farm sales to the country, hence the special exemption. The program, however, has lost steam in recent years with strict financing rules from the U.S. and Cuba’s far-better relations with other nations.
The supporters of the bill, particularly those with business and agriculture interests, see Cuba as an emerging market. They also see ripe opportunity for U.S. tourists to vacation in a country only 90 miles from our shores.
The opponents include an anti-Communist lobby that is firmly against any relationship between the two nations. They are not pleased with the level of progress of the nation’s current president, Raul Castro. He is the brother of former president Fidel and torchbearer for oft-reviled Castro family.
At this point, President Obama nor his Administration have made direct comment on the substance of the legislation or its position on the potential outcome of the votes in the House committees.